Why and How to Add Seaweed to your Diet
Seaweed has been consumed by people for thousands of years. It is a staple in many Asian cultures and enjoyed by the people around the world from Ireland to Malaysia. The United States has been slower to adopt the sea vegetable as part of their diets, but it has slowly been gaining popularity as an accompaniment to sushi and as crispy snacks found in natural foods stores. The popularity of seaweed is due in part to the fact that it is so nutritious, providing many vitamins and minerals. But what exactly are these health benefits and how do you add seaweed to your diet? Eat Smarter explores the increasing popularity of these sea vegetables that are showing up on menus and plates across the country.
In many Asian cultures, seaweed is a part of every meal. Enjoyed in soups, salads, and even desserts, seaweed is a versatile ingredient that every kitchen should have. A long-time staple in the vegan community, agar agar (a powdered or flaked seaweed extract used for thickening or gelatinizing) has increased in popularity so much that the prices have seen a huge spike.
There are thousands of types of seaweed found in our oceans around the world, but only a handful of those are actually harvested and consumed by humans. All of these types fit into three varieties: red, brown, and green. Red seaweed includes, to name a few, dulse (which, when cooked, has a taste reminiscent of bacon), Irish moss and nori (the seaweed that surrounds your sushi rolls). These seaweeds are typically small and delicate, compared to their green and brown relatives. Brown seaweed is the most common seaweed eaten and includes types such as kelp and wakame. Green seaweed is the least common and includes sea lettuce.
Edible seaweeds boast a variety of health benefits that make it a great addition to meals. Seaweed is full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including vitamins A, C, B6, as well as calcium, iodine, and fiber. A review of over 100 studies found that seaweed may provide us with more bioactive peptides than milk. Bioactive peptides are typically derived from milk protein and are known to be important for heart, digestive and immune health.
The recent trends in seaweed popularity have drove people to begin cultivating seaweed on the shores, instead of harvesting it from the oceans. This does not work for every type of seaweed, but it is becoming an increasingly popular way to grow seaweed. In the coastal United States, such as Maine and Oregon, as well as parts of Canada
While there are many varieties of seaweed that are edible, only a handful of them are popular here in the U.S. and readily available at grocery stores.
Nori is one of the most common seaweed varieties. It is used to make sushi, can be found in flavored sheets for snacking on, and is found in various Japanese seasonings used on dishes such as ramen. Nori is a type of brown seaweed, upon drying it becomes green and is typically sold in flat, thin sheets.
Kombu, a variety from the kelp family, is used to make the well-known Japanese broth called dashi. Kelp is often referred to having a savory umami flavor, which is the sixth flavor profile used to describe and classify foods.
Wakame is a soft seaweed that is typically served fresh in salads. It has a slightly sweet taste and a bright green color.
Dulse is typically eaten dry, as a slightly salty snack. It can also be sauteed slightly for a bacon-like flavor that can be used in salads, sandwiches and soups. This red seaweed has been popular in parts of northern Europe for centuries, where it has become a part of many traditional dishes.
Seaweed is not just eaten, it also plays an important part in science. Agar agar is used for microbiology and play an important part in DNA experiments. Seaweed is also found in a variety of cosmetics, where its vitamins, antioxidant properties, and minerals are touted as skincare gold. Seaweed is also used for its iodine, which is extracted from the seaweed then added to things like table salt.
Seaweed has been a crucial part of the nutrition and cuisines of many cultures, but its increasing popularity is turning it into a superfood superstar. Top restaurants all over the world are now using seaweed in their dishes to add flavor and depth.
Try one of our favorite seaweed recipes:
Easy Maki Rolls: These sushi rolls use nori seaweed sheets, which give the rolls structure and a delicious flavor. Plus, the fillings are completely customizable so everyone in your family can make and enjoy their own roll.
Salmon with Daikon Radish Slaw: In this dish, the nori takes more of a background role. The toasted nori is sprinkled on top of the finished dish for a delicious umami flavor.
Japanese Seaweed Broth: This light soup is made using kombu seaweed, which flavors the broth base of the soup and gives it a mild taste.
Strawberries on Coconut Gelatin: This delicious dessert is perfect for summer, and vegans will love it because it uses agar (extracted from seaweed) instead of gelatin.
- Nyerges, Christopher. “Guide to Edible Seaweed.” Mother Earth News. Ogden Publications, Inc., 21 Apr. 2014. Web.
- Fitzgerald, Ciaran, Elmear Gallagher, Deniz Tasdemir, and Maria Hayes . “Heart Health Peptides from Macroalgae and Their Potential Use in Functional Foods.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 59.13(2011):6829-836. Web.
- Shuzhen, Sim.”A Brief History of Agar.” Asian Scientist Magazine. Asian Scientist Magazine, 26 Jan. 2016. Web.